Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Bill O'Brien will no doubt look to revamp the offensive coaching staff at Penn State as he attempts to build a Nittany Lion attack in the mold of the one he's guided for the New England Patriots. But the defense? It looks like that side of the ball will retain a strong flavor from the Joe Paterno era.
That's after multiple Nittany Lion players confirmed following a Sunday team meeting that Penn State linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Ron Vanderlinden would be held over as part of O'Brien's staff. A former head coach at Maryland, Vanderlinden has been an assistant in Happy Valley for the past 11 seasons. He began the 2011 season as linebackers coach before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator following Paterno's exit.
Vanderlinden is the second defensive assistant to be retained by O'Brien, joining defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Tennessee Titans assistant Charles London has also been hired as the Nittany Lions' running backs coach.
Though full-season coordinator and former interim head coach Tom Bradley obviously deserves much of the credit, Vanderlinden's cameo as co-DC was nonetheless a highly successful one. The Nittany Lions finished 20th in total defense, a sterling 12th in yards-per-play allowed, and an even-better fifth in scoring defense. With numbers like those, it's understandable why O'Brien would want to keep as much continuity on that side of the ball as possible.
But still, the first thing the Nittany Lions wanted to talk about after the meeting was ... O'Brien himself. Quarterback Matt McGloin said he "got some chills" discussing offense with his new head coach.
“I expect that it’ll be an entirely different playbook,” McGloin said. “It’s exciting, just watching the Patriots and knowing we’ll be doing similar things.”
“You can definitely sense that he goes about business, and loves football, and he showed that to us,” said wide receiver Justin Brown. “I think everybody’s just excited to get things going with our new coach and move forward.”
“To the people who had doubts about him, everybody has to start somewhere,” said running back Silas Redd. “Every head coach has a head coaching debut, and this is his debut. He’s more than ready to steer this whole thing.”
If McGloin is right that the offense will hum, and Redd and Brown are right that O'Brien is ready to lead, and a defense with Vanderlinden and Johnson aboard can hold the line, a hire that was near-universally panned among the Nittany Lion faithful may (like similarly unpopular hires Gene Chizik and Brady Hoke) wind up OK in the end.
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